From Russia to North Korea to Zimbabwe, the affect of diplomatic sanctions has lengthy been questioned. However Bangladeshi activists don’t have any doubts: extrajudicial killings have all of the sudden stopped since punitive US measures had been imposed two months in the past, they are saying.
Round 2,500 Bangladeshis have allegedly been killed by safety forces since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina got here to energy in 2009, based on rights group Odhikar, which maintains detailed information, with a whole lot extra enforced disappearances.
It has tallied almost 1,200 such deaths within the final 4 years, or a median of 25 per thirty days.
However since Washington on December 10 imposed sweeping Magnitsky Act sanctions in opposition to the Speedy Motion Battalion (RAB) elite safety power together with seven of its high officers, killings have totalled zero, it says.
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“I want this sanction was slapped loads earlier,” mentioned Afroza Islam Akhi, whose brother vanished eight years in the past. “Lots of lives would have been saved.”
Akhi is now a coordinator for Mayer Daak, which represents a whole lot of households of victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
The RAB was arrange in 2004 to deal with Marxist insurgents and Islamist extremism in addition to curb human trafficking — targets it pursued mercilessly and officers say successfully.
Extra lately its targets have largely been alleged criminals and drug sellers, with authorities insisting that deaths have solely occurred throughout exchanges of fireside in legit regulation enforcement operations.
However critics say political opponents have additionally died by the hands of safety forces and that gunfights are staged to disclaim the victims due authorized course of.
Akhi’s brother Sajedul Islam Suman was amongst no less than 18 activists with the primary opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Celebration (BNP) allegedly picked up by RAB officers in December 2013 within the run-up to nationwide elections.
“My mom went to the RAB headquarters every single day for greater than a 12 months as we heard RAB officers detained him,” Akhi informed AFP. “However he by no means returned.”
‘Each bone damaged’
Nur Khan Liton, head of Bangladesh’s high rights group Ain O Salish Kendra, mentioned the US sanctions have straight improved the nation’s rights state of affairs.
“Individuals are proud of it and plenty of have began talking out,” he mentioned.
In keeping with activists, nearly all victims of extrajudicial killings are detained after which shot lifeless.
Rita Begum final noticed her 14-year-old son Rakib Howlader handcuffed and detained at a police station in outdated Dhaka in 2018.
The subsequent day her father informed her the boy — accused of peddling medication — had been crushed to loss of life after which shot to make it seem he had died in an alternate of fireside.
“Each bone in his physique was damaged after which he was shot,” she informed AFP. “I did not get justice.”
When she tried to file a grievance, she mentioned, “police got here to my home. They held a pistol to my head and made me signal a number of papers. They even threatened to rape my daughter.
“I would like the American sanctions to prevail,” she added.
“I do not wish to see any extra moms dropping their youngsters. I do not need anyone else to undergo my destiny. I misplaced my gem of a boy.”
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‘Nervous concerning the future’
In some instances RAB officers have been prosecuted, with no less than 26 individuals together with an RAB commander sentenced to loss of life for seven murders within the central metropolis of Narayanganj in April 2014.
Dhaka and Washington usually have heat relations, co-operating on safety points and with Bangladesh usually voting alongside the US on the United Nations.
The sanctions embody asset freezes and visa bans and had been imposed on the RAB and present or former RAB officers, together with its ex-head Benazir Ahmed, now the nationwide chief of police.
The transfer — at a time when China is pouring funding into one in every of Asia’s poorest international locations — shocked Dhaka, with the overseas secretary summoning the US ambassador to convey “discontent”.
However the sanctions represent a “tactical strike” on the understanding between the safety forces and ruling celebration and “put the entire safety institution below renewed worldwide scrutiny”, mentioned Sydney-based Bangladesh researcher Mubashar Hasan.
They’ve additionally raised anxiousness amongst Bangladeshi officers for whom the West is a well-liked retirement and coaching vacation spot, he added.
He identified that the Biden administration has begun to focus on companies linked to governments that it says suppress human rights, resembling China.
“Many Bangladeshi businessmen tied with the ruling celebration are nervous concerning the future,” he mentioned.
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There was no response to repeated requests by AFP to the RAB and the nationwide police for remark.
Dhaka denies its officers are concerned in extrajudicial killings or enforced disappearances.
However Shahab Enam Khan, a professor at Jahangirnagar College, mentioned: “Sanction from the US on the regulation enforcement companies or personnel is a lesson and maybe no one needs it to be repeated.”